BURLINGTON, Vermont (AP) — A pastor was taken back to jail Thursday for continuing to refuse to tell a grand jury what he knows about a woman who fled the country to escape a custody dispute with her former lesbian partner.
Kenneth Miller, a Mennonite pastor from Virginia, and U.S. District Court Judge William Session III continued their philosophical discussion about deeply held religious beliefs versus the needs of the law.
Miller told the judge that the week he has spent in jail has strengthened his resolve that his beliefs require him to follow God's law when they conflict with civil law. He said he is willing to pay the price, even if it means more time in jail.
"If I were to bring testimony against a fellow member of Christ's kingdom, for honoring Christ's kingdom's laws, I would be disloyal to his kingdom and to Christ," Miller said.
Miller has refused to testify about another man involved in the 2009 flight of Lisa Miller and her daughter, Isabella, rather than allow the girl to spend time with Lisa Miller's ex-partner. The Millers are not related.
Kenneth Miller, 47, was convicted of aiding international parental kidnapping for helping Lisa Miller and Isabella, now 10, travel from Virginia to Nicaragua via Canada. The two are still believed to be in Nicaragua.
Sessions told Kenneth Miller that the pastor wasn't being asked to pass judgment on the target of the grand jury investigation. Rather, Sessions said, he simply would be recounting the facts, an essential part of the law enforcement process and critical to the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system.
"I need to be convinced that a further period (in jail) would not result in your answering questions. I think that you also need to reflect upon the function of our system of justice here, and I am not convinced that that is necessarily inconsistent in this particular context with your religious beliefs," Sessions said before ordering Miller back to jail.
Miller is facing up to three years in prison on his conviction for helping mother and child flee. Sentencing is set for March 4.
He was sent to jail last week after refusing to testify about all he knew about the flight. Sessions said his continued refusal to testify would be taken into account when he is sentenced.
"He understands the risks that he runs at sentencing," said one of Miller's attorney's Brooks McArthur. "That is not going to change his mind."
Assistant United States Attorney Paul Van de Graaf said Miller's refusal was no different than if a drug dealer refused to testify against fellow gang members.
Lisa Miller and Janet Jenkins were joined in a Vermont civil union in 2000 and Isabella was born to Lisa in 2002. The couple split in 2003. The Vermont family court gave custody of Isabella to Lisa Miller, but gave Jenkins regular visitation.
Lisa Miller then returned to Virginia, became a conservative Christian, renounced homosexuality and sought full custody of the girl. The courts treated the case as any parental custody dispute and custody was turned over to Jenkins after the two disappeared.
The target of the grand jury investigation has not been revealed, but in court he was described as a fundamentalist Christian who is not a Mennonite.